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8 different ways rice is eaten around the world


Kian Khoon Tan/123RF

Rice. What is it about this starchy cereal grain that makes it so yummy? It’s versatile (that means that you can do many things with it!), so you can find it in soups, cereals, noodles and main dishes, or you can enjoy it all on its own. Rice is a universal dish and is cooked in nearly every culture and region. In fact, nearly half of the world’s population depend on rice as their main source of food.

Take a look at the different ways rice is eaten and enjoyed around the world.

Tahdig — a crunchy rice dish from Iran

Tahdig rice dish from Iran.
Photo by Greg Hirson licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Tahdig (say “tah-deeg”) is a specialty of Iranian cuisine that refers to the crispy rice at the bottom of the pan. Sometimes the rice might have additions like potatoes, carrots, lettuce and even cranberries, and those additions end up in the tahdig.

If tahdig is on the dinner menu, Iranian kids know to get to the table fast, and to start piling their plate before it gets eaten up. Not only is it delicious, it’s fun to hear the crunch as you take the first bite!

Xôi ba màu — rainbow-coloured rice from Vietnam

Xôi ba màu or rainbow-coloured rice from Vietnam.
Royalty-free photo via pxfuel

Just look at those colours! We know what you’re thinking — it has to be food colouring.

Actually the beautiful, vibrant colours of xôi ba màu (say “soy-ba-mau”) — which means rainbow sticky rice, is made from completely natural ingredients like seeds from Gac fruit (it's a thorny melon) or paste made of mung beans. Though it doesn’t change the flavour of the rice, the natural ingredients leave the rice with a pleasant smell, or fragrance.

One can grab a xôi ba màu from street vendors throughout Vietnam. And because of the flavours, it’s often served as a dessert! What a sweet surprise!

Jollof rice — All the ingredients you’ll ever need in one-pot from Nigeria

Jollof rice from Nigeria.

Jollof (say “joll-off”) rice is a national dish of Nigeria, but is also very popular throughout Ghana, Cameroon, Sierra Leone and other West African countries. In fact, the dish is so popular that there’s even a rivalry between countries on how to make it.

But no matter how differently it’s prepared, each dish of jollof rice is prepared uniquely and involves a great deal of flavour. Tomatoes, pepper, onion and a host of other ingredients like garlic, stock cubes, curry powder and ginger are cooked in one pot, with rice being added and mixed in.

This dish is also known as benachin (say "ben-a-chin"), which means “one-pot” — a fitting name for this dish.

Aside from eating a delicious meal, dish duty has never been so easy!!

Onigiri — portable, efficient and edible works of art from Japan

Onigiri rice from Japan
Photo by Juliana Phang licensed CC BY 2.0

The importance of rice in Japanese culture cannot be emphasized enough. It is a staple food, eaten with every meal and present in both ceremony and tradition, dating back to over 2,500 years. Rice was even used as currency (that’s money!) in Japan at one point!

So it should be no surprise that the onigiri, or rice ball, originated in Japan. Onigiri (say “o-nee-ghee-ree”) is white rice that has been seasoned with sugar and salt and shaped into a triangle that is wrapped in seaweed.

Who wouldn’t want that?! A dish you can eat on-the-go, without getting your hands messy and where you get to eat the “plate” of seaweed as well. Sign me up!

Dirty rice — A spicy and flavourful Cajun dish from Louisiana

Dirty rice from Louisiana, U.S.A
Brent Hofacker/123RF

Don’t let the name fool you! Dirty Rice is delicious. When you mix all the good stuff like green bell peppers, celery, onion, meat and spice it up with cayenne and black pepper, it turns the colour of the dish to a “dirty colour.”

Dirty rice is a traditional Louisiana Creole dish. The Creole people are descendents from African American slaves as well as inhabitants of colonial Louisiana, back when it was both under French and Spanish rule. They’re known for making food with a lot of flavour, so it makes sense that their rice dishes are going to pack a punch!

Chak-hao kheer — black rice pudding (but it’s really purple!) from Manipur, India

.Chak-hao kheer — black rice pudding from Manipur, India
Manipuri Foodie/YouTube

Imagine a dessert that is healthy for you!

Black rice used to be referred to as "forbidden rice" in ancient China, when only members of the upper class and royalty could eat it. Nowadays black rice has spread beyond China’s borders. One place in particular that enjoys the richness of eating black rice is Manipur, a state in northeastern India.

In Manipur, they make a dish known as chak-hao kheer (say “chak-how-Keer”) which is served as a dessert during major feasts. It has a unique purple colour and strong smell. The dessert can be enjoyed with a drizzle of honey, and is often cooked with nuts.

Black rice is also well-known for its great health benefits. It is rich in protein and fibre, making it good for your heart. 

Risotto — a creamy rice from northern Italy

Risotto — a creamy rice from northern Italy.
Photo by H. C. licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0

Italy may be known for pasta, but risotto (say “riz-oh-tow”) is a delicious rice dish that cannot be ignored. Risotto means "little rice" in Italian, and is a northern Italian dish that consists of cooking rice in broth until a creamy texture emerges.

There are many different types of risottos, some add turmeric — a mustard-colour spice — for more seasoning, while others mix in ingredients like pumpkin or wine. Every cook gets to be creative with how they make their own risotto, but one thing is for certain, it needs a lot of time and attention to get that delicious flavour.

Northern wild rice — sacred rice from Canada

Northern wild rice — sacred rice from Canada.
Marek Uliasz/123RF

Did you know that wild rice is often referred to as "Canadian rice”? Indigenous communities have been harvesting wild rice for centuries, sometimes even using the rice as material for pouches, or sweetening it with maple syrup.

For many Indigenous communities, like the Ojibway people, wild rice is a sacred component to their culture. The Ojibway word for wild rice is manoomin (say “manoo-min”) and it’s known as a "harvesting berry" or "good berry," and carries such important cultural relevance that it is thought to have contributed to more place names than any other plant in North America.